The liberal case for the need to champion social services

As has become obvious to anyone who has read a newspaper or watched a news channel over the past 5 years, the NHS is straining under the weight of demand. With accident and emergency departments swamped, critical staffing levels and insufficient number of beds the national health provider is struggling to provide the excellent level of care that it is famed for. Alongside this, within the social services sector a perfect storm of an aging population, increased numbers of people living with long-term conditions, squeezed local authority budgets, discrepancies between the fees paid by private clients and local councils, high staff turnover and increased overhead costs has meant that for both systems the current situation is completely unsustainable.[Care Management Matters, September 2015, p 24]

While the government has already committed to increased spending on the NHS by £10bn per year in real terms by 2020/21 social care falls under the budget of local services and so they will continue to wither on the vine. As mentioned in a previous article, ‘Why we should care about Care’ both services work hand-in-hand, and a true integration could see money saved, lives improved and pressure reduced on both the NHS and local councils and their social services. 

Just as mental health must be treated in the same manner as we treat physical health, social services must be treated in the same manner as health services. As with mental health, ongoing social services needs and care within the community are often overlooked or perform badly in the result-based systems that funding-justifications rely upon because they can’t be easily quantified. While the costs of fixing a broken leg can be quantified in terms of staffing costs for A&E, cast material costs, rental of crutches and physiotherapy costs, the long-term costs for someone coping with a psychological illness are near impossible to calculate due to the nature of the cost-variables they present.

As as a party we need to be the champion of social care and social services, not just because they are needed but because they present the clearest choice for the promotion of an individual’s long term liberty. Rather than side-lining patients whose problems can’t be fixed within a prescribed formula, increased care in the community and improved social services can allow for more personally-tailored care packages. Rather than after-care being conducted through follow-up appointments at hospitals or doctors surgeries, many can be undertaken within a person’s home – alleviating pressure on NHS services. It is not only the liberty of the patients who are effected but of the personal carers too. Our country relies on a silent army of them, many of them unpaid, who are currently averting the crisis the lack of resources in community care and in local social services will bring.

During the General Election campaign both Labour and the Conservatives were quick to back the needs to the NHS. Let the Liberal Democrats be the party that backs social services too.

* Ian Thomas is the pseudonym for a party member. His identity is known to the Lib Dem Voice editorial team.

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  • Social services as it is presently defined is perhaps an even more leaky bucket than the health service. I think it would be irresponsible for the Lib Dems to espouse undefined increases in funding to the present set up. A single health and social care service would seem to be a way forward but I wonder if it would fail because of the shear size of the organisation. I note that David Owen is somewhat pessimistic about the future of the NHS.
    Clearly, the financial needs of the health service or social services, or rather their capacity to mop up money, is beyond present levels of taxation. I suggest that the practical way forward is for there to be an honest structured public debate on the issues involved in funding health and social care followed by a refrendum. The subject of this referendum would ask for approval for increasing taxation by the required amount. This is what I would like the Lim Dems to be asking for.

  • As a former Cabinet member for Social Work, I welcome the thrust of Alex’s post. There is a deeply serious crisis as outlined in the link below and also in a report by Crawford and Read.

    Social care is on the cusp of a crisis – The Guardian › Social Care Network › Policy

    The Care Collapse: The imminent crisis in residential care and its impact on the NHS
    Interim Report Authors: Emily Crawford and Claire Read.

    It should be obvious that under resourced social care services adds dramatically to NHS costs by delaying discharge from hospital.

    Successive government cuts have withered local government of social care at a time of a demographic increase in elderly care needs. The need for the protection of vulnerable adults and children continues to increase – and is a real concern. Private residential Care Homes (for example Four Seasons looks like following Southern Cross) are on the brink.

    As for Chris Side’s comment – “Social services as it is presently defined is perhaps an even more leaky bucket than the health service”. – sorry, but frankly I find that insensitive and offensive. The spelling of sheer as shear is perhaps a freudian slip.

    This is a profoundly serious issue and deserves a profoundly serious response by the Liberal Democrats (of which I know Norman Lamb MP is well aware).

  • Bill le Breton 4th Jan '16 - 5:59pm

    Chris Side notes “that David Owen is somewhat pessimistic about the future of the NHS.”

    I think it more accurate to say that he is pessimistic about the chances for an NHS which continues to be run with an internal market.

    Anyone with the slightness acquaintance with the consequences of the internal market could not but agree.

    Therefore a campaign to end the internal market would gain wide support – it is nonsense to have a system which can dream up the idea that a hospital can make a loss!

  • nigel hunter 4th Jan '16 - 9:51pm

    One part of the Social Services that may be linked to the NHS is the “Meals on Wheels ” service. I hear that some Councils have raised their prices and others given it to Private business. If this is the case could this not be one reason why there has been an increase in admission of malnutrition cases in hospitals? Hospitals have records of patients. Could not this service be linked to hospital services to prevent this sort of admission to hospital, a prevention is better than cure scheme, it could therefore in the long run pay?

  • David Garlick 6th Jan '16 - 10:37am

    Social Care and NHS departments competing for budgets is nothing less than a minefield for decision makers. whatever is not done is likely to lead to people complaining that they have been unfairly treated in funding and have been let down/damaged as a result. The two services were separated to ensure that this ‘battleground’ was eliminated and hopefully sensible funding decisions could be made independently.
    ‘Social Services is a leaky bucket’. If you are getting the help and support you need I doubt you would think so. If you are not, then I doubt you would think so either but you might! For those that can afford private care it is not an issue. There is no doubt that services need to be effective and efficient (Inspection regimes need to be refocused) but we need to decide as a society what levels of care we are prepared to pay for to support those in need and also what contribution those needing care should be asked to pay. I don’t think we have that right yet. Attitudes have changed since my late relative received care financial support and asked why that was so as they had £7k in the bank….

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